WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Designating 200,541 square miles of Alaska as critical polar bear habitat would not address the melting sea ice that threatens the bears, officials said.
The designation, announced Thursday, would be the largest protected habitat for any species and encompass the range of two polar bear populations, about 3,500 bears, in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, said Tom Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.
The plan requires oil drilling and shipping companies to prove their activity , would not harm the bears' habitat, but it would not slow oil and gas development or address melting sea ice caused by climate change, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Those steps must be addressed separately by Congress, Strickland said.
"The Endangered Species Act is not the tool to directly address carbon emissions, which are the root cause of climate change," Strickland told reporters in a conference call from Washington.
Melting sea ice has dramatically reduced ice floes the bears need for breeding, resting and hunting, conservationists said.